If we choose to listen, our horses are actually great communicators. A horse will provide you with an excellent opportunity to feel simply by resting one of his hooves. At first, the rider will feel off balance and wonder why. Upon further examination, the rider will notice the resting hoof and understand why he is now tilting to the left or right in the saddle. Perhaps this simple movement is our first chance to actually feel our horse. This exercise will happen quite naturally and we only need to be aware.
A comparison can be made between riding a horse and riding a bicycle. When you first learn to ride a bicycle, you are forced to learn balance or you will fall. A similar statement may be made about riding a horse. If I take away your saddle and your horse makes a sudden turn, you will fall if you do not have proper balance. Practice sitting on your bike and notice what happens if you lean to the left or right. Concentrate on staying centered on your bike and, by necessity, you will develop balance.
An excellent exercise we can practice on our horse is maintaining balance through transitions. Ask your horse to walk on and then ask him to halt. Notice what happens to your body when the horse stops. If you are rigid in your seat, you will be thrown off balance and forward. If, however, you relax your seat and move with your horse, you will stay centered and there will be no noticeable movement of your body. This is the key to acquiring balance. It should come quite naturally and be undetectable to an observer. This exercise may be practiced through halt, walk and trot as the rider becomes more comfortable with his seat.
Posting trot also provides us with the opportunity to work on feel. When we post on the correct diagonal, we should feel in unison with our horse. The opposite may be said when we are posting on the incorrect diagonal. We should practice posting trot without looking down to check which diagonal we are posting. It will come by feel given enough time and practice.
As the rider progresses, the same may be said of cantering on. Only through feel and balance should we realize if we are on the correct lead. If the rider still has to look down to determine what lead the horse is on, it should be said that the rider has not yet developed proper balance. Canter must be practiced and proper leads must be felt. If we were to skip these basic steps, the rider would never learn to ride with a balanced seat.
This ends Part 2 in my series of “Horseback Riding – The Art of Acquiring Balance”.
Part 3 of my series will be devoted to more advanced exercises we can practice on horseback to further challenge our ability to feel and maintain balance.
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Even though I wrote this article 8 years ago, the principles remain the same. Balance is the foundation for any type of horseback riding. I continue to follow these methods with my students today! ~Julie